Special Issue "Gene Expression Regulation during Drought and Salt Stress in Crop Plants"

A special issue of Agronomy (ISSN 2073-4395).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 April 2019).

Special Issue Editor

Dr. Andrew Eamens
Website
Guest Editor
Centre for Plant Science, School of Environmental and Life Sciences, University of Newcastle, Callaghan, New South Wales, 2308, Australia
Interests: plant developmental biology; plant abiotic stress responses and stress adaptation; RNA biology; epigenetics; microRNAs (miRNAs); small RNAs (sRNAs); gene expression regulation
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Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The world population is expanding more rapidly than ever before; however, the area of arable land either available to, or remaining useable for, cropping agriculture is decreasing at an alarming rate. Further, our ability to continue to improve total crop yield via the use of traditional methods is also hastily-approaching transition from the once impressive exponential phase to plateauing out in the stationary phase of the production curve for global crop yield.

Two closely-linked abiotic stresses, drought and salt stress, are of increasing concern for modern agriculture to continue to achieve annual improvements to total crop yield and therefore, meet our food security target. A tremendous volume of research effort has been spent in recent years by the plant biology research community to; (1) advance our current understand of the mechanisms employed by plants to mount an adaptive response to drought or salt stress, and; (2) translate research findings made in experimental model plant species into the major crop species, including rice, wheat, maize, barley and soybean, to provide tolerance to these two stresses.

Much of the knowledge gained, or the research translated into crops species to date, has focused on the regulation of the expression genes that encode the protein products key to the biochemical or physiological pathways responsible for providing tolerance to drought or salt stress. We also now know that the regulation of gene expression is far more complex than previously thought, with the ‘central dogma’ of molecular genetics, that is; from DNA template, to RNA intermediate, to protein product, being challenged on an increasingly frequent basis.

This Special Issue of Agronomy, titled “Gene Expression Regulation during Drought and Salt Stress in Crop Plants” will focus on the recent advances made by the plant biology research community on the complexity of the regulation of expression key genes involved in a crop plant’s response to drought or salt stress. We, therefore, warmly welcome novel research findings, review articles and opinion pieces covering the broad, yet related areas of; epigenetics (including chromatin modification and DNA methylation); genetic diversity (including natural variation); alterations to transcription factor expression; small RNA-directed RNA silencing (including the microRNA and small-interfering RNA species), and; the use of a transgene-based approach to molecularly manipulate gene expression in crop species to provide tolerance to either drought or salt stress (including the in planta application of the new sequence-specific nuclease toolkit for targeted mutagenesis).

Dr. Andrew Eamens
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Keywords

  • Stress tolerance
  • Genetic diversity
  • Natural variation
  • Transcription factors
  • DNA methylation
  • Epigenetics
  • microRNAs
  • small-interfering RNAs
  • Sequence-specific nucleases
  • in planta molecular manipulation.

Published Papers (11 papers)

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Research

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Open AccessArticle
Establishment and Characterization of Callus and Cell Suspension Cultures of Selected Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench Varieties: A Resource for Gene Discovery in Plant Stress Biology
Agronomy 2019, 9(5), 218; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9050218 - 30 Apr 2019
Abstract
Sorghum, a naturally drought tolerant crop, is genetically diverse and provides a wide gene pool for exploitation in crop breeding. In this study, we experimentally assessed friable callus induction rates of seven sorghum varieties using shoot explant for the generation of cell suspension [...] Read more.
Sorghum, a naturally drought tolerant crop, is genetically diverse and provides a wide gene pool for exploitation in crop breeding. In this study, we experimentally assessed friable callus induction rates of seven sorghum varieties using shoot explant for the generation of cell suspension cultures. The cell suspensions were characterized in terms of cell growth and viability profiles as well as gene expression following 400 mM sorbitol-induced osmotic stress for 72 h. Only ICSB 338, a drought susceptible variety, was readily amenable to friable callus formation. Cell culture growth plots of both ICSB 338 and White sorghum (used as a reference line) depicted typical sigmoidal curves. Interestingly, Evans blue assay showed that ICSB 338 cell cultures are more susceptible to osmotic stress than the White sorghum cells. The osmotic stress treatment also triggered differential expression of eight target genes between the two cell culture lines. Overall, these results suggest that the genetic diversity of sorghum germplasm influences friable callus induction rates and molecular responses to osmotic stress, and could be further exploited in plant stress biology studies. Therefore, we have developed a valuable resource for use in molecular studies of sorghum in response to a range of biotic and abiotic stresses. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Growth, Physiological, Biochemical, and Transcriptional Responses to Drought Stress in Seedlings of Medicago sativa L., Medicago arborea L. and Their Hybrid (Alborea)
Agronomy 2019, 9(1), 38; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9010038 - 19 Jan 2019
Cited by 4
Abstract
Medicago sativa L. is a tetraploid perennial forage legume of great agronomical interest. The increasing need for its use under water-deficit conditions as well as low-input systems demands further improvement of its drought tolerance. On the other hand, Medicagoarborea L. is a perennial [...] Read more.
Medicago sativa L. is a tetraploid perennial forage legume of great agronomical interest. The increasing need for its use under water-deficit conditions as well as low-input systems demands further improvement of its drought tolerance. On the other hand, Medicagoarborea L. is a perennial leguminous shrub, which is knownas a drought-tolerant species. In the present study, drought stress responses of the aforementioned medicago species, along with their hybrid, named Alborea, were comparatively assayed at the morphological, physiological, biochemical, and transcriptional levels. In particular, transcript abundance of representative genes that: (a) control ion transport, intracellular Na+/H+ antiporters(NHX1) and rare cold inducible2A (RCI2A); (b) have an osmotic function Δ1-pyrroline-5-carboxylate synthetase 1 (P5CS1); and (c) participate in signaling pathways and control cell growth and leaf function stress-induced mitogen-activated protein kinases kinases (SIMKK), Zinc Finger (ZFN), apetala2/ethylene-responsive element binding (AP2/EREB), basic leucine zipper (bzip) and Medicago sativa Helicase 1(MH1) were evaluated. Under well-watered conditions, the studied population of Alborea showed the highest stem elongation rate and photosynthetic rate that were dramatically reduced under drought conditions compared to M. sativa and M. arborea. Under drought conditions, the studied population of M. arborea showed less reduction of relative water content, all gas-exchange parameters, less lipid peroxidation, and more antioxidant capacity. Moreover, transcriptional analysis demonstrated that the population of M. arborea exhibited significantly higher transcript levels of drought-responsive genes in both leaves and roots under drought stress conditions. M. sativa has better antioxidant capacity than Alborea and had a higher induction of stress-related genes, thus it performs better than Alborea under drought conditions. Among the studied genes, it seems that AP2/EREB play a critical role in the response of the studied population to drought stress. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Response of Yellow Quality Protein Maize Inbred Lines to Drought stress at Seedling Stage
Agronomy 2018, 8(12), 287; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy8120287 - 01 Dec 2018
Cited by 3
Abstract
This study seeks to evaluate the response of 17 yellow Quality Protein Maize (QPM) inbred line seedlings to drought stress (DS), using different morphophysiological traits (plant height (PH), chlorophyll content (CC), stem diameter (SD), proline content (Pro), photochemical efficiency of photosystem II (PS [...] Read more.
This study seeks to evaluate the response of 17 yellow Quality Protein Maize (QPM) inbred line seedlings to drought stress (DS), using different morphophysiological traits (plant height (PH), chlorophyll content (CC), stem diameter (SD), proline content (Pro), photochemical efficiency of photosystem II (PS II), canopy temperature (CT) and substomatal carbon dioxide concentration (Ci). The experiment was laid out in a randomized complete block design (RCBD) and replicated three times in a growth chamber. The seedlings were exposed to DS treatment by growing them at 20% field capacity. The control/well-watered (WW) treatments were kept at 80% field capacity throughout the experiment. Highly significant differences (p < 0.001) were observed for PH, SD, and Pro across environments. On the other hand, significant differences (p < 0.05) were observed for CC and PS II, while DS had no significant effects on Ci and CT. Proline content increased under DS compared to WW conditions. Inbred lines L34, L7, L5, L2, L16, and L6 had approximately equal or more Pro than the drought tolerant check (ZM1523). As such, these lines were regarded as drought tolerant. Taking all measured parameters into consideration, L7 performed notably better than the other inbred lines under DS. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Performance Assessment of Drought Tolerant Maize Hybrids under Combined Drought and Heat Stress
Agronomy 2018, 8(12), 274; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy8120274 - 22 Nov 2018
Cited by 4
Abstract
Drought and high temperature are two major factors limiting maize productivity in sub-Saharan Africa. An increase in temperature above 30 °C reduces yield by 1% under optimal rain-fed condition and by 1.7% under drought stress (DS) and up to 40% under combined drought [...] Read more.
Drought and high temperature are two major factors limiting maize productivity in sub-Saharan Africa. An increase in temperature above 30 °C reduces yield by 1% under optimal rain-fed condition and by 1.7% under drought stress (DS) and up to 40% under combined drought and heat stress (DSHTS). Approaches that improve performance under the two stresses are essential to sustain productivity. The objectives of this study were to (i) assess the extent of variation in tolerance to DSHTS from among the existing best drought tolerant (DT) hybrids; (ii) examine the response patterns of the hybrids to DSHTS; (iii) identify traits that contributed to better performance under DSHTS; and (iv) select the best hybrids with tolerance to DSHTS stress. We evaluated 40 DT hybrids under DSHTS, DS, and well-watered (WW) conditions for three years. Highly significant (p < 0.001) differences were found among hybrids for grain yield and other traits. Moderately to low repeatability values were detected for grain yield under DS (0.63) and under DSHTS (0.48). Grain yield under DS was not correlated with grain yield under DSHTS (r = 0.29; p = 0.06), but it was correlated with grain yield under WW (r = 0.74; p < 0.001). Grain yield was strongly correlated with ears per plant, ear and pant aspects, days to anthesis and silking under both DS and DSHTS. Tassel blast accounted for 28% of the yield reduction under DSHTS. The top five DT hybrids produced 9 to 26% more grain yields than the best commercial hybrid. Three hybrids produced high grain yields under DTHTS and DS as well as under WW. These hybrids will be tested further in collaboration with partners for possible release. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Unveiling the Enigmatic Structure of TdCMO Transcripts in Durum Wheat
Agronomy 2018, 8(11), 270; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy8110270 - 21 Nov 2018
Cited by 1
Abstract
Durum wheat is one of the oldest and most important edible cereal crops and its cultivation has considerable economic importance in many countries. However, adverse conditions, such as high irradiance and increasing salinity of soils, could lead to a decrease in productivity over [...] Read more.
Durum wheat is one of the oldest and most important edible cereal crops and its cultivation has considerable economic importance in many countries. However, adverse conditions, such as high irradiance and increasing salinity of soils, could lead to a decrease in productivity over the next few decades. Durum wheat plants under salinityare able toaccumulate glycine betaine to osmotically balance the cytosol and reduce oxidative stress, especially in young tissues. However, the synthesis of this fundamental osmolyte is inhibited by high light in T. durum even under salinity. Choline monooxygenase is the first enzyme involved in the glycine betaine biosynthetic pathway. Thus, to explain the glycine betaine inhibition, we analyzed the effect of both salinity and high light on the putative TdCMO gene expression. Thirty-eight TdCMO different transcripts were isolated in the young leaves of durum wheat grown in different stress conditions. All translated amino acid sequences, except for the TdCMO1a6 clone, showed a frame shift caused by insertions or deletions. The presence of different transcripts could depend on the presence of duplicated genes, different allelic forms, and alternative splicing events. TdCMO1a6 computational modeling of the 3D structure showed that in durum wheat, a putative CMO-like enzyme with a different Rieske type motif, is present and could be responsible for the glycine betaine synthesis. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Characterization for Drought Tolerance and Physiological Efficiency in Novel Cytoplasmic Male Sterile Sources of Sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.)
Agronomy 2018, 8(10), 232; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy8100232 - 19 Oct 2018
Cited by 5
Abstract
Sunflower is sensitive to drought, and furthermore, sunflower hybrids display limited cytoplasmic diversity. In addition, the wild cytoplasmic sources of sunflower are not well explored for their potential to introduce drought tolerance into newly developed hybrids. Therefore here, we carried out a Line [...] Read more.
Sunflower is sensitive to drought, and furthermore, sunflower hybrids display limited cytoplasmic diversity. In addition, the wild cytoplasmic sources of sunflower are not well explored for their potential to introduce drought tolerance into newly developed hybrids. Therefore here, we carried out a Line × Tester-based genetic study using 19 sunflower genotypes representing, 13 cytoplasmic male sterile (CMS) lines from wild and conventional sources, 2 maintainer lines, and 4 restorer lines. The CMS and maintainer lines were crossed with restorer lines to develop sixty F1 hybrids. The parents and their hybrids were evaluated under two water regimes, normal irrigation and drought stress (i.e., withholding water). A total of twelve important plant descriptors were studied over a period of two years and the significant differences between parents and hybrids are reported here. More specifically, hybrid lines were higher in average values for all the descriptors. The contribution of female parent was more prominent in the expression of traits in hybrids as compared to male parents. The CMS sources varied significantly regarding seed yield per plant and other physiological traits. Proline content in the leaves of all the genotypes was three times higher in the water stress regime. Accession CMS-PKU-2A was identified as the best general combiner for leaf area and specific leaf weight., whereas CMS-234A was the best general combiner for biological yield and photosynthetic efficiency under both conditions. The cross combinations CMS-ARG-2A × RCR-8297, CMS-234A × P124R, and CMS-38A × P124R were found significant for biological yield, seed yield and oil content under both environments. Overall, this study provides useful information about the cytoplasmic effects on important sunflower traits and drought stress tolerance. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Screening of EMS-Induced Drought-Tolerant Sugarcane Mutants Employing Physiological, Molecular and Enzymatic Approaches
Agronomy 2018, 8(10), 226; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy8100226 - 15 Oct 2018
Cited by 3
Abstract
Drought stress is one of the major agronomic concerns that lead towards a sharp decline in sugarcane yield. An urgent demand to overcome drought is critical to ensure sugarcane production. Mutation breeding is one of the promising tools available to produce stress-resistant plants, [...] Read more.
Drought stress is one of the major agronomic concerns that lead towards a sharp decline in sugarcane yield. An urgent demand to overcome drought is critical to ensure sugarcane production. Mutation breeding is one of the promising tools available to produce stress-resistant plants, with the induction of new alleles due to point mutation within existing sugarcane germplasm. The current study was directed to chemically mutagenize the calli of two sugarcane cultivars (ROC22 and FN39) via 0.1% EMS, with focus on inducing mutations in their genome. The 1644 regenerated plants of ROC22 and 1398 of FN39 were exposed to 28% PEG-6000 stimulated osmotic stress. Eighteen plants of ROC22 and 2 plants of FN39, that survived after in vitro osmotic stress treatment, were then subjected to preliminary greenhouse pot trials to confirm drought tolerance by analyzing them using various physiological parameters, including photosystem II (PSII) photochemical efficiency (Fv/Fm), leaf chlorophyll content, and photosynthetic rate. The genetic diversity among drought-resistant mutant lines was further assessed by 15 pairs of simple sequence repeat (SSR) markers amplification and CEL (Celery) I endonuclease digestion, to investigate the mutated sites. Mutant lines of ROC22 (i.e., MR22-15 and MR22-20) were found to be promising for future drought resistance breeding, due to better physiological adaptation under drought stress. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Chitosan-PVA and Copper Nanoparticles Improve Growth and Overexpress the SOD and JA Genes in Tomato Plants under Salt Stress
Agronomy 2018, 8(9), 175; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy8090175 - 08 Sep 2018
Cited by 5
Abstract
Saline stress severely affects the growth and productivity of plants. The activation of hormonal signaling cascades and reactive oxygen species (ROS) in response to salt stress are important for cellular detoxification. Jasmonic acid (JA) and the enzyme SOD (superoxide dismutase), are well recognized [...] Read more.
Saline stress severely affects the growth and productivity of plants. The activation of hormonal signaling cascades and reactive oxygen species (ROS) in response to salt stress are important for cellular detoxification. Jasmonic acid (JA) and the enzyme SOD (superoxide dismutase), are well recognized markers of salt stress in plants. In this study, the application of chitosan-polyvinyl alcohol hydrogels (Cs-PVA) and copper nanoparticles (Cu NPs) on the growth and expression of defense genes in tomato plants under salt stress was evaluated. Our results demonstrate that Cs-PVA and Cs-PVA + Cu NPs enhance plant growth and also promote the expression of JA and SOD genes in tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.), under salt stress. We propose that Cs-PVA and Cs-PVA + Cu NPs mitigate saline stress through the regulation of oxidative and ionic stress. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Assessing Field Prunus Genotypes for Drought Responsive Potential by Carbon Isotope Discrimination and Promoter Analysis
Agronomy 2018, 8(4), 42; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy8040042 - 05 Apr 2018
Cited by 1
Abstract
In order to improve the effectiveness of breeding practices for Prunus rootstocks, it is essential to obtain new resistance resources, especially with regard to drought. In this study, a collection of field-grown Prunus genotypes, both wild-relative species and cultivated hybrid rootstocks, were subjected [...] Read more.
In order to improve the effectiveness of breeding practices for Prunus rootstocks, it is essential to obtain new resistance resources, especially with regard to drought. In this study, a collection of field-grown Prunus genotypes, both wild-relative species and cultivated hybrid rootstocks, were subjected to leaf ash and carbon isotope discrimination (Δ13C) analyses, which are strongly correlated to water use efficiency (WUE). Almond and peach wild relative species showed the lowest Δ13C ratios, and therefore, the highest WUE in comparison with hybrid genotypes. In addition, drought-related cis-regulatory elements (CREs) were identified in the promoter regions of the effector gene PpDhn2, and the transcription factor gene DREB2B, two genes involved in drought-response signaling pathways. The phylogenetic analysis of these regions revealed variability in the promoter region sequences of both genes. This finding provides evidence of genetic diversity between the peach- and almond-relative individuals. The results presented here can be used to select Prunus genotypes with the best drought resistance potential for breeding. Full article
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Review

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Open AccessReview
Plant Desiccation Tolerance and its Regulation in the Foliage of Resurrection “Flowering-Plant” Species
Agronomy 2018, 8(8), 146; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy8080146 - 14 Aug 2018
Cited by 4
Abstract
The majority of flowering-plant species can survive complete air-dryness in their seed and/or pollen. Relatively few species (‘resurrection plants’) express this desiccation tolerance in their foliage. Knowledge of the regulation of desiccation tolerance in resurrection plant foliage is reviewed. Elucidation of the regulatory [...] Read more.
The majority of flowering-plant species can survive complete air-dryness in their seed and/or pollen. Relatively few species (‘resurrection plants’) express this desiccation tolerance in their foliage. Knowledge of the regulation of desiccation tolerance in resurrection plant foliage is reviewed. Elucidation of the regulatory mechanism in resurrection grasses may lead to identification of genes that can improve stress tolerance and yield of major crop species. Well-hydrated leaves of resurrection plants are desiccation-sensitive and the leaves become desiccation tolerant as they are drying. Such drought-induction of desiccation tolerance involves changes in gene-expression causing extensive changes in the complement of proteins and the transition to a highly-stable quiescent state lasting months to years. These changes in gene-expression are regulated by several interacting phytohormones, of which drought-induced abscisic acid (ABA) is particularly important in some species. Treatment with only ABA induces desiccation tolerance in vegetative tissue of Borya constricta Churchill. and Craterostigma plantagineum Hochstetter. but not in the resurrection grass Sporobolus stapfianus Gandoger. Suppression of drought-induced senescence is also important for survival of drying. Further research is needed on the triggering of the induction of desiccation tolerance, on the transition between phases of protein synthesis and on the role of the phytohormone, strigolactone and other potential xylem-messengers during drying and rehydration. Full article
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Open AccessReview
Profiling of the Differential Abundance of Drought and Salt Stress-Responsive MicroRNAs Across Grass Crop and Genetic Model Plant Species
Agronomy 2018, 8(7), 118; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy8070118 - 13 Jul 2018
Cited by 5
Abstract
In recent years, it has become readily accepted among interdisciplinary agriculturalists that the current global crop yield to land capability ratio is significantly insufficient to achieve food security for the predicted population of 9.5 billion individuals by the year 2050. This issue is [...] Read more.
In recent years, it has become readily accepted among interdisciplinary agriculturalists that the current global crop yield to land capability ratio is significantly insufficient to achieve food security for the predicted population of 9.5 billion individuals by the year 2050. This issue is further compounded by the: (1) food versus biofuel debate; (2) decreasing availability of arable land; (3) required reductions to the extensive and ongoing environmental damage caused by either poor agricultural practices or agriculture expansion, and; (4) increasingly unfavorable (duration and severity) crop cultivation conditions that accompany man-made climate change, driven by ever-expanding urbanization and its associated industrial practices. Mounting studies are repeatedly highlighting the critical importance of linking genotypes to agronomically beneficial phenotypes and/or using a molecular approach to help address this global crisis, as “simply” clearing the remaining natural ecosystems of the globe for the cultivation of additional, non-modified crops is not efficient, nor is this practice sustainable. The majority of global food crop production is sourced from a small number of members of the Poaceae family of grasses, namely; maize (Zea mays L.), wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) and rice (Oryza sativa L.). It is, therefore, of significant concern that all three of these Poaceae grass species are susceptible to a range of abiotic stresses, including drought and salt stress. Highly conserved among monocotyledonous and dicotyledonous plant species, microRNAs (miRNAs) are now well-established master regulators of gene expression, influencing all aspects of plant development, mediating defense responses against pathogens and adaptation to environmental stress. Here we investigate the variation in the abundance profiles of six known abiotic stress-responsive miRNAs, following exposure to salt and drought stress across these three key Poaceae grass crop species as well as to compare these profiles to those obtained from the well-established genetic model plant species, Arabidopsis thaliana (L.) Heynh. Additionally, we outline the variables that are the most likely primary contributors to instances of differential miRNA abundance across the assessed species following drought or salt stress exposure, specifically; (1) identifying variations in the experimental conditions and/or methodology used to assess miRNA abundance, and; (2) the distribution of regulatory transcription factor binding sites within the putative promoter region of a MICRORNA (MIR) gene that encodes the highly conserved, stress-responsive miRNA. We also discuss the emerging role that non-conserved, species-specific miRNAs play in mediating a plant’s response to drought or salt stress. Full article
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